Majority of French support sending troops to Syria but politicians are wary
Paris - A majority of the French respondents to a recent poll expressed support for sending French ground troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State (ISIS).
The Ifop poll, conducted for Le Journal du Dimanche and released on September 13th, indicated that 56% of respondents favour sending French ground troops to Syria as part of an international coalition force. A slightly larger percentage of the French reached by pollsters — 58% — said that it was possible to defeat ISIS militarily. However, only 48% said they believe that a foreign force alone can do the job.
The poll results may reflect anxiety over terrorism in the wake of the foiled attack on the Thalys high-speed train in August, the latest in a string of terror attacks in or directed at France in which the perpetrators had connections with Syria. Ayoub el-Khazzani, the suspect in the Thalys attack, had recently travelled to Syria. The ongoing migrant crisis also may have contributed to a greater willingness to seek a military solution in Syria, as the French public may have concluded that the migrant flow would continue until the conflict in Syria was directly addressed.
French President François Hollande, however, prior to the poll’s release, called the prospect of sending French troops to Syria “irresponsible” and “unrealistic”. He said French troops would be seen as an occupation force and that the Syrian opposition and regional states should wage the ground war against ISIS. The Élysée Palace had no immediate reaction to the poll.
Many experts agree with Hollande. Political scientist Pierre Razoux points out that “Daesh [the Arabic acronym for ISIS] only dreams of a foreign intervention on the ground so it can raise the banner of resistance to the new crusade”.
Hollande has ordered the French Air Force to conduct reconnaissance flights over Syria to assess the viability of joining the US-led air campaign against ISIS. Until now, the French Air Force has attacked ISIS targets in Iraq but not in Syria. France has been reluctant to expand its air campaign against ISIS to Syria for fear that doing so may inadvertently help the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.
Paris has demanded the removal of Assad.
Conservative opposition leaders have expressed reservations about Hollande’s approach, while not calling for an outright intervention. “To say that we can send jets but have no one on the ground is a lie,” said former president Nicolas Sarkozy in an interview with French media. “The air force is blind without experts on the ground to identify targets and avoid collateral damage.”
Sarkozy added: “No one is talking of French infantry on the ground but you cannot win this war without soldiers on the ground.”
Sarkozy said it was possible “to defeat Daesh in a few months if the right means are there”.
Another conservative politician, Pierre Lellouche, a former member of the government and expert on military affairs, said he opposes French boots on the ground, saying, “It is out of the question that we get involved in a civil war in the Arab world.” Lellouche suggested that Hollande “revise his diplomatic strategy vis-à-vis Russia, Iran and Turkey”.